Year after year, there is one thing you can count on with the Kentucky Derby. This race is just about as wide open as one can get as far as who will grace that Winner’s Circle. From favorites to longshots and everywhere in between, the Kentucky Derby is on a completely different level with regards to handicapping and how one must approach the information given. This race is different than every other Graded Stakes race you handicap throughout the year. As the Edition Number One article reveals, a past performance sheet will not pinpoint a longshot winner through the figures and stats presented. That sheet is a guide to search for the underlying facts. This race cannot be handicapped in the normal fashion. This is not a prep. This is the Big Show.
There are 20 contenders who were all good enough to secure a Derby gate and each one of them realistically has a 20 to 1 shot of winning that race. Morning Line odds mean nothing for this race. When handicapping a prep, the morning line odds and ultimately the “bettor’s odds” hold some weight. Not so for the Derby. The odds for the Derby are greatly based on those past performances and if there is even one piece of handicapping advice that you as a reader take from any of these Derby articles is that nothing that you usually look for that makes you select a horse for any race will not apply to the Kentucky Derby.
The ultimate goal is always to make a profit. This is one race where you should never “look for a price” just to pad a superfecta, but that price horse is usually hiding in there somewhere and realistically he should have never been a long price in the first place. If the favorite has every advantage, every underlying signal, and the breeding to run the distance, then he is the one. Bet him. If a longshot holds those same criteria, then he is the one. Bet him. Do not rely on odds for the Kentucky Derby. If you do, you will ultimately rip up your ticket afterwards.
One of the best handicapping exercises you can do for yourself may sound a bit crazy, but if you try it, it can reveal a lot when it comes to your handicapping skills. You will need a wife or a husband or a friend to help you out with this. I guarantee if you do the following, your skills as handicapper will skyrocket and you will learn a lot in the process…
On the day the Kentucky Derby Past performance Sheets come out, ask a friend to print out two copies. Have your friend take a sharpie marker to one of the copies and cross out the names of the horses, cross out the M/L odds, the gate number, the jockey name, the trainer, the three horses who hit the board, and the name of any of the Derby preps. You should not be able to easily identify the colt who corresponds with that Past Performance list. Then, have him cut each set into slips just in case you know some of the gate numbers. You should be left with 20 slips with 20 sets of past performances. Now handicap the race using just the statistics. You won’t be looking at replays. You won’t have any preset opinions on a horse’s name, you won’t know the M/L odds. Just stats. Set aside your best top 5 slips and place the others to the side.
Next, take the clean complete copy. Identify the five colts that you chose with that first exercise. No matter who they ended up being, no matter what their morning line odds were. Mark them off with a star and then forget them for now. Start with the horses that you did not choose and handicap them as if your life depended on it. Watch their replays with complete concentration and focus. The statistics part is done, now is where you consult the prep replays and where you look for the underlying signals. Consult their breeding for the distance. When you block out the hype and the noise, you can ultimately take your handicapping skills to level that you truly want to be at.
Do not rely on anyone to give you the odds for any Kentucky Derby horse. They are basing it off of 6f to 9f races. Colts who win 6f, 7f, 8f and 9f races does NOT mean they will or can win a 10f race. Yes, favorites win, but sometimes longshots win as well. Country House won at 65 to 1 last year. His past performance sheet was deadly. Be honest with yourself if you want to be a great handicapper. When you saw that 65-1 on the past performance sheet, you most likely didn’t take the time to even look into him. If you bet Superfectas, keep in mind, longshots hit that board. Every colt who enters the gate needs the same scrutiny as the one below it. This is the Kentucky Derby. This is a 10f race for immature 3 year olds. There is profit to be made. The handicapping process is at a completely different level.
After the exercise is done, you may ultimately come straight back to those initial top 5 slips but you can confidently say that you gave each and every horse the same respect and concentration regardless of their name and their odds. You handicapped for a 10f race which is the most important thing and it is not found on that sheet. You disregarded the hype and you disregarded preconceived bias. That is true handicapping.
This edition of “Derby Winners” presents us with a winner who had a fairly deceiving past performance sheet just like Country House from our first article. The horse we will dive into for this article was also considered a longshot who went off at 21-1 the year he demolished his opponents and stamped his name in the Derby history book. The luke-warm favorite that year came in 8th place.
For this article, we will study the past performance slip without revealing the horse. (And I will probably do this going forward as well) This will present the exercise in its entirety so that we can look for the underlying signs that pointed to a 21-1 winner and why it is important to learn this skill when handicapping the Derby. You may look at this sheet and automatically know the horse, after all, you love horse racing and what a horse he was on that track! This race holds a bit of spice for me personally. I am very honest when I bet and lose, but this year, I will happily state, I made a killing on a win bet (I missed the super). This horse had Derby Winner written all over him for so many reasons and most of it had nothing to do with his past performance sheet. It was all underlying and it was all breeding.
The Past Performance sheet with revealing info erased:
This guy had 4 races prior to the Derby. None under 1 mile. That is a huge tell. His trainer(s) obviously knew something about this horse. It is very rare for a trainer to skip that 6 to 6.5f maiden. His first maiden attempt at 1-1/16th shows that it was taken off of the turf and run on AWS. So, it is also obvious this his trainer considered him a turf guy with the ability to debut over one mile. Again, this points to something extremely telling. He came in second, not very fast in contrast to his speedy foes who were out there conquering quick 6f races. His second attempt at his maiden resulted in a win going 1-1/8th on AWS. At 2 years old, this horse had already won at the distance that most of his Derby competitors wouldn't see for months. The third race is a bit mystifying. He was put back on turf in an allowance, going shorter. (He did switch trainers there.) Could this have been considered a tough "workout" for this horse in anticipation for what was to come? He came in second but he had an "awkward start" and just missed the win by a head. So here we have a horse who conquered AWS and Turf going "long". His 4th race, the Spiral Prep, was back on AWS at 1 -1/8th. He posted his fastest and best to date.
This guy ran in 4 races, Came in first and second each time and ran at the front of the pack in one race, he ran mid pack in another, and twice he ran from the back of the pack. Another huge tell for how he could perform in the chaos that is the 20 entry field of the Derby. No matter where he may have ended up, he showed to date that position didn't matter. He was going to hit that exacta either way. This is rare as most horses will grab their desired spot over and over consistently. The fact that he was never worse than second in "further" distances than his peers from the beginning was also a huge tell. But the biggest tell of them all comes on that bottom line in his PP's coupled with his breeding.
The reason why this horse went off at 21-1 odds was mainly because he never ran on dirt. Most handicappers will shy away from that and disregard him because he didn't run a 6f race on a dirt surface. This is nonsense and a false signal. There is one thing buried on that PP sheet that tells you everything you need to know when you add in his breeding.
Chefs: DI = 2-0-6-0-0 (8) Index = 1.67 CD = .50
Mares: DI = 3-4-5-11-6 Speed = 7 Stamina = 17 Index = 0.54 Triads = 12-20-22
Serious serious stamina. Top and bottom, Backwards and forwards. His trainer knew exactly what this horse was packing which doesn't happen too often. The chefs alone scream stamina but it is the mares numbers which take over everything. Notice how low the chefs profile points add up to 8. He isnt holding too much chef influence which means the mares are gonna take over. He has a spectacular 10 point spread between his speed/stamina balance. Just looking at these numbers, you can see how well his trainer knew his horse and you can also see how much he lacked in inherited speed both top and bottom. Without any calculations, it is easy to discern how well this horse would travel 10f. By his past performance sheet, you can see that it wouldnt matter if he ran from the back, from the middle or all the way up front. It wouldnt matter if he had to run 6 wide the entire race, he had the stamina. But here is the biggest tell of them all...
Handicapping the Derby takes common sense and adding up the facts to reconstruct the puzzle of how any horse will react to the 10f in the Derby. Every little piece means something. This guy never showed us his ability to run on dirt and he never really gave us the opportunity to see how his speed would fair when going short (like all the others). This horse has a severe lack of inherited short early speed. In spite of all of this, on April 30, seven days before the Kentucky Derby, this guy posted a major workout which foretold everything one would need to make a sound judgement on his advantage in the Derby especially when pitted against a certain foe in the race (which we will get to).
The workout was at Churchill Downs. This was breezing work. He ran 6f in 1:13 even. Some may look at this and say, that is really no big deal. I would beg to differ when it comes to a horse who has barely a drop of short early speed inheritance and also one who obviously was meant to be geared towards the Turf by a very astute trainer. (Actually 2 astute trainers). Horses who are packing a ton of speed can kick out 6f quick fast workouts but that doesn't mean they can continue and endure a 10f track. A 1.67 horse who is holding 101% serious stamina from their mares should not BREEZE 1:13 a week before the biggest race of his career. He LOVED that dirt. He was waiting for that dirt. On top of that, he could run the 10f distance with his eyes closed. Speed guys who post times like that breezing are SUPPOSED to post times like that. Their times mean nothing. Stamina guys running that fast at 6f means everything. These are the type that demand a long track. 6f is 6f whether alone in a workout or competing. That time was sensational for a breezing stamina entrant.
Taking it one step further, the Derby pits speed against stamina. It will be one or the other. In the stamina category that year, none came close to this guy as far as all of the signals, the breeding, and the firsts and seconds he posted before the big day at the distances he conquered. Therefore, he would get pitted against the speed category colts, and there was one speed horse entered who was obviously going to be one of the main lead speed guys. It was his way of running. It was in his breeding. It was also the only way that he ever hit the board or won in any of his previous races. The one time he found himself mid-pack, he did not perform. His jockey had NO choice but to get his guy out front or else he had no chance at the wire. This particular horse had a fantastic second place in his final prep race, in the Florida Derby, which is the main race to concentrate on. Additionally, he was one of the quickest horses of that years crop. This guy was also sent off with high odds at Churchill at 23-1. He was the main one who would shape that race but his breeding said that he could never sustain his speed the entire 10f to prevail in the race.
The Speed Guy's numbers:
Chefs = 6-13-9-0-2 (30) Index = 3.62 CD = .70
Mare Profile = 6-4-2-5-10 Speed = 10 Stamina = 15 Index = 0.67 Triads = 12-11-17
This quick lead type colt was the key to this years Derby. He had a perfect Chefs quick speedy set-up. His mares also offered him plenty to sustain his speed, however, his mare triads were below par for a win. He had "Hit the board" numbers, he did not have "Winning" numbers. When you pit the speed guy against the stamina (its one or the other for a win in the Derby) - the endurance for the speed guy is questionable for 10f - it was not questionable for the stamina guy who also proved from his Churchill workout that he was packing some serious speed on a dirt surface. Speed vs. Stamina. Who prevails? This particular speed guy has a very nice 5 point spread between his speed/stamina balance and based off of his final prep foretold that he could take that performance just a bit further but his triads arrangement left him short of getting that wire first. Stamina takes the advantage when you pit them against each other.
It is so important to learn how to pit horses against each other for the Derby. First you pit those colts who competed together in their final prep. Then you pit each of the remaining colts against each other within their inherited category (Speed-Average-Stamina). Then you pit the remaining speed guys against the remaining stamina guys. The race will unfold based on how much inbred stamina a speed horse has and how far his inheritance will take him. If he is one who sets fast fractions you must determine if he has the capability within his numbers to sustain it going the distance. If he doesn't, then stamina will have the advantage.